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Pot Bill is Out of Time

Governor's "must-have" legislation going up in smoke.

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Source: Anchorage Daily News (AK)
Author: Sean Cockerham, Anchorage Daily News
Published: May 8th, 2005
Copyright: 2005 The Anchorage Daily News 
Contact: [email protected] 

Juneau, Alaska -- The governor's attempt to outlaw at-home marijuana appears dead for this legislative session.

With the Legislature scheduled to adjourn for the year on Tuesday, lawmakers said Saturday the bill is out of time. The news came just two days after Gov. Frank Murkowski declared it one of his "must have" bills. "I want marijuana -- this session," Murkowski said on Thursday.

The bill could rise from the ashes if the governor forces the Legislature into a special session. Murkowski has threatened to do so if lawmakers do not pass controversial changes to public employee retirement benefits and injured workers' compensation laws.

Both those bills were still tied up Saturday in battles between the House and Senate.

The governor has the power to set the Legislature's agenda if he calls a special session. So he could add the marijuana bill to the list of items to be considered, although he can't force the Legislature to vote on it.

Murkowski has not indicated he would make pot part of a special session, a fact reiterated Saturday by his spokeswoman, Becky Hultberg.

Another option for the governor would be to try again with the bill next year.

The Alaska Supreme Court in September let stand a lower court ruling that says adults have the right to possess less than four ounces of pot for personal use in their own homes. The court ruled it is protected under the strong right to privacy in the state constitution.

Murkowski's bill, even if it passed, wouldn't be enough to trump the court ruling.

But the bill contains a series of "findings" asserting the harms of marijuana. The governor's strategy is to use those findings in court, along with the legislative record that comes with passing the bill.

The idea is that it would convince the courts that the state has an overriding interest in making all marijuana illegal, despite the right to privacy. The bill would also make possession of over four ounces of pot a felony.

Legislators are against legalizing pot, and the bill was moving earlier in the legislative session. But it didn't move fast enough, and it looks like the Senate Finance Committee will be the end of the line.

"I just think it got to finance too late," said Wasilla Republican Sen. Lyda Green, the co-chair of that committee.

She said she thinks the bill didn't move quickly enough because it came with a 3-foot stack of background material for legislators to digest before approving all the findings about pot's harms.

Anchorage Republican Rep. Kevin Meyer, co-chair of the House Finance Committee, had a different explanation for it.

"It's not a real top priority of anybody except the governor," he said.

Meyer said he and other legislators don't support marijuana and the bill would likely pass if it made it to the floor. But in the press of all the priority bills to pass in the final days of the session, the marijuana bill seemed like it kind of "faded away," he said.

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